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Learning with Anki Spaced Repetition

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This piece of software has probably helped me in more ways than any other recently. It has been a time of many changes, not least of which was getting a job as a software developer a little over a year ago. This sure helped.

Anki is a spaced repetition software, based around user-generated flashcards. The flashcards can be arranged into decks representing your chosen subjects. The cards from each deck are then shown back to you at intervals which are determined by Anki’s display algorithm. That’s where the real magic of this nifty little program is.

First things first.

Card Decks & Entering Information

You can choose to import card decks that other people have created or create your own. For the most part I create my own decks.

I imported a Spanish Vocabulary deck. I used a highly rated, pre-built deck that I have downloaded.

Most of the learning that works for me is in the process of recognising the information I want to put into Anki, entering the information and then reviewing it. I find specifically selecting stuff to be entered into Anki is what makes the learning meaningful.

Each card has a front and back. The front of the card is the prompt, the back is the answer.

So, if learning a language (been trying my hand at some Polish recently) I often just have the English word on the front, the answer on the back being the translated word. For programming, I use a similar model for code snippets and concepts.

The fronts and back of the cards can show text, images, audio and video files. So there are lots of ways to use the core flashcard concept in whatever way suits you. I often use pictures or web images to help visualise a concept, pattern or relationship.

The Anki Algorithm

When reviewing a deck, the cards are shown back. The question first, have a think about the answer, then click to have it shown. The cards selected to be shown back depend on a number of factors including when the card was created, when it was last shown, and what it was rated at.

When a card is shown, it can be rated as again, hard, good, or easy. The cards are usually shown in a good order (i.e. when I need to be refreshed). If a card appears and I don’t have a clue what the answer is, by rating it ‘hard’ it is kicked back higher in the deck and I will see it again soon.

Using Anki Wherever

Like everything else nowadays, there is a mobile app for Anki. So Anki decks can be reviewed and edited on the go. The decks are synced between devices so you always have the most up to date version on hand.

I have only skimmed the surface of how Anki can be used here. Everyone will find a way to use it that suits their needs and learning styles.

Tips For Using Anki

It’s a productive way to kill some down time on a commute. Reviewing the cards usually takes no longer than ten minutes per day.

It is very effective for going over stuff you have previously learned or have a level of proficiency with. In my case, this means motoring through some pre-loaded Spanish vocabulary decks. The amount of new cards shown per day can also be toggled so for something like this, the default amount could be set to 50 instead of 20.

It can be used for something much more challenging. I am learning to speak Polish very slowly. This involved listening to a Michel Thomas (entirely aural learning method) cds, writing down stuff phonetically, and writing it into Anki. This can be a mixture of English and Polish prompts.

Bit of an experiment. Mind you, it has stalled recently as I haven’t given time over to it.

Nonetheless, it’s fantastic for learning programming, the syntax of languages in particular.

Keep the questions and answers short if possible. More text adds to the time spent reviewing cards.
It won’t turn you into a memory genius of any kind.

Pre-made decks can be brilliant time savers. Vectormaps – Countries of the World is the one I am currently enjoying.

The manual and other information about using Anki can be found here.

Some Videos

Overview of Anki on Android phone

Benny the Irish polyglot outlining how he uses Anki for languages

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